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HOw Has White Supremecy Changed In The US
"V Colorado US presidential election campaign which draws to a merciful conclusion. Four days from now has been such a circus that events which would have defined. Other contests have been swiftly forgotten among those wells the thwarting earlier this month of an apparent plot by far right still styled militiamen to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the subsequent discovery of links between those alleged conspirators and of the white supremacist groups. This is a cohort which has been repeatedly. Nodded and winked at from the highest pulpit in the land. These last four years. What happens in the next four? Whatever happens on Tuesday well earlier I spoke to Kathleen, Balu Assistant Professor of US history at the University of Chicago and offer of bringing the war home, the white power movement and paramilitary America I began by asking Kathleen how the white supremacist movement has changed between the nine, thousand, nine hundred, and now there's two differences in what's happening in the nineteen eighties and forward one is at the violence. This movement is interested in carrying out is explicitly anti-state they want to overthrow the federal government. So this is one of the reasons that I think white nationalist as a term can be confusing the nation and white nationalism nineteen eighty-three is not the united. States, it is the Irian Nation and they're imagining a fundamental overthrow of the country and all of its democratic practices. So the other thing that's different is that this movement is bringing together a lot of different people in every way but race, it is an. Incredibly, diverse social movement. We're talking about a whole bunch of different sub sections of white supremacists thinking. So this is the first time in the nineteen eighties. The we see a unification between clansmen, neo-nazis skinheads, radical tax resisters, posse comitatus members, and then in the early nineteen nineties, we start to see militia members in these groups as well. Now, all of that is emblematic of a movement that has taken a page from earlier. American. History. So it it it borrows from the opportunism of earlier clan mobilizations, but it's Very different in its deadly intent and in the number of people is able to bring together in this new set of sort of violent belief systems. If you consider its car numbers and its current firepower, how is impossible to quantify how dangerous these movements are obviously, we had seen in recent weeks the apparent thwarting of a plot to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer Michigan but is that an it's a depressing thought but is that likely a straw in the wind will there be more of that sort of thing not. Only will there be more, but that story is already proving to be more than it looked at first glance. There were reports today that members of the base, which is an underground paramilitary wide power group have been arrested in connection to that plot. So already, we're seeing cross group organization and were seeing how this is working in network much the way it did in the nineteen eighties. So one of the most important things that people can do a to understand what this is an to combat it is simply To connect these stories with one another, it's very easy especially in a news cycle when people feel so buffeted with information at all times and sort of feel under attack by their own news feeds, I think it's very difficult to do the work of paying attention but it it's absolutely critical here because it's not just about the group that tried to kidnap Governor Whitman it's about the the connections between that group. The proud boy is Adam often in the base boo-boys, there are many of these groups on. The scene now now to your question about numbers, this is a very difficult one I'm not sure we even have an accurate headcount for the earlier movement, and that's where we have the the most consistent set of archival materials. As a historian. I'm very reluctant to make specific claims about the movement right now because I don't have my sources together yet and I won't have them for another ten or twenty years but what we know from reading the history and from reading the news. So in other words, what the? That history gives us can show us is that we have every reason to be concerned about further activity and escalating violence. This is a movement that is intent on mass casualty attacks that has used not just voter intimidation, but all kinds of other violent means over years and that has been organizing in this way quite effectively for decades. If not generations, this is not a new problem and it's not something that will go away quickly and the other thing is that this is a movement that is organized around sell style action much. Like a group in in radical Islamic terror would would work mix up that this group has been doing that since nineteen eighty-three, they're very, very good at it because they use cell style organization, there's not a great correlation between rising size of group membership lists and rising capacity for violent action. Because if you're trying to carry out an act of style terror, you're not interested in two thousand people who are going to come out on Saturday and March Down Main Street. You're interested in six people who are willing to detonate a bomb. So the difference is sometimes what we see is a shrinking of membership before an intense surge and violence I'm very concerned that that's where we are now and I think you know the people who do have archival information for the present day moment are saying the same thing. So I'm hearing this from people in the FBI people at Department of Homeland Security who have access to surveillance documents. I'm hearing this from people at the southern poverty law center and other watchdog groups who? Spend their time monitoring white power and militia TV, online, and most of hearing this from people who work in de radicalization trying to help people out of the movement everyone is sounding the alarm bell right now, everyone is running up the red flag and I think you know you don't have to listen to me. I'm just a historian, but I think everyone is calling everyone they can think of to to sort of try to get people to pay attention to this very grave situation. Hunch they're bringing an acceleration in the momentum of these groups because of if obviously radically different reasons the last two presidents you had the the fact of a black president of the United States, which clearly a number of people had a significant problem with and he's followed by a president who is to put it charitably equivocal in his condemnation of these groups. Yes. Absolutely and we're seeing a very clear relationship between political rhetoric and extremist action is that to price do you think can be put back in the tube night at all? That's a good metaphor for it. I usually say we can't on ring the bell. Exactly the problem right because you know if you take something like the president's remarks in the first debate about calling the proud boys to quote stand back and stand by even if you take the most generous interpretation of his remarks and say, okay, perhaps perhaps he was fed that group name and he doesn't know who they are perhaps he meant to tell them. To stand down even if we take all of that as given I think that there is a very real problem i. in the fact that it's not just the proud boys who heard that as a paramilitary call to readiness there are many other underground groups like the Bass Lake the guys in Michigan who heard that call as the call to action. And there's another problem of even in the case of activists who right now support the president. There's no indication that he has the power to call these people off. Once he has ignited away of violence as I said, this is a movement that has been expressly anti-government for many many years, and this is a strange thing about the United States that it has since the Vietnam war been. Very possible to hold the position in the United States of being anti government and pro president or pro-military or pro cop at the same time I mean we see Ronald Reagan making statements about how the government is the problem not the solution while he is the head of the government. So that sort of gymnastics act of balancing that since a fracture is not a problem for people here. So, there is a way that you can be pro trump right now and still be dedicated to violent overthrow of the state down the road or at some present moment and another note of caution is just the last time that this movement became very deadly setting off the string of events that led to the Oklahoma City bombing, and you know the the most horrific mass casualty attack for the United States between Pearl Harbor Nine Eleven. The last time that happened was not under a leftist administration it was under Reagan and it was because activists in this movement saw Reagan's perceived moderation as a sign. that. Political means could never deliver the kind of change that they wanted. Even Reagan was not offering what they wanted, which was reestablishment of Jim Crow Segregation or reinstatement of slavery or establishment of a white homeland things like this were much too radical for mainstream politics. So there's a real chance that even trump will hit align where it's too extreme for him. I mean even trump is not talking about reestablishing slavery and at that point I think there might be a wave of dissatisfied people if he's re-elected who are interested in mass casualty attacks just finally is there an aspect of this which is? Not just or perhaps beyond politics and beyond even race it strikes me just looking at the. Way in which the members of these movements present themselves, there's this strange cartoonish idea of masculinity in play. You know it is a very masculine movement, but it turns out that both in the earlier movement and today women are incredibly important to this activism You don't always see that in the public facing part of what they're doing. But in the period of my study, there's a whole bunch of women who are sort of forming the social network holds these people together and really makes possible violent action and they're doing everything from publishing their own newspapers to running their. Own Auxiliary groups to driving getaway cars and disguising people when they're on the Lam and even as they're doing all that they are saying things like I'm not an activist I'm not political I would never seek a leadership role because you know within this worldview out sweat good womanhood looks like but however you cut it women are incredibly important here and we would be foolish to think that those deep social interactions aren't part of what is sustaining this groundswell. I'm just you're just finally finally and feel free if you like to to refuse to gaze into a crystal ball but. How do you see this playing out in the next? Well, the next few weeks I if the polls are correct and Donald Trump does lose office on Tuesday. Well I, think everyone in the United States. Approaching all polls with a degree of caution from now on for. Immediate. Historical reasons. My concern here is that there is no mental picture that I can paint. There's no series of events that I can see that would make someone at this point with this set of social pressures with this worldview simply put down the weapons and go home and say, okay, well, we lost this round. It's time to go do some democratic change somewhere else. So my concern is that if trump is while if biden is elected, I think that these activists will not only be frustrated and rally look for mass casualty are opportunities if trump. Is elected I think that one ends game has to do with them, feeling dissatisfied and turning to mass casualty attacks in route to overthrowing the government. Again, as they've been doing for quite a long time, another route would be a continuation of sort of this Lincoln in an odd slash outright calling to arms line of rhetoric I mean there's a way that groups like this and other contexts have become strike forces and death squads for authoritarian regimes and there we can look to southern America and central, America for many examples of how that's happened. All all three of these are threats to Americans and to our democracy. So I think it is a very bleak time for people who pay attention to this particular part of the American political life. But was Kathleen Blues speaking to me earlier, Kathleen's book bring the war home the white power movement and paramilitary America is published by BELKNAP.